The World Cup will dominate television sets this summer and per usual, most of the elite European nations (as well as a few South American teams) will be considered as favorites, or at the very least serious contenders. There’ll be lofty expectations placed on teams like Italy, England, Germany and defending champion Spain. On the surface, all four teams couldn’t be more different, but they all seem to have similar strengths and weaknesses.
Those “strengths and weaknesses” are being blessed with an obnoxious number of world-class midfielders and having huge question marks at striker.
Let’s take a closer look at Italy, England, Germany and Spain:
Coach Cesare Prandelli certainly holds an enviable job in terms of picking a midfield grouping. With Italy using everything formation from a 4-3-1-2 to a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-2-1 (also known as “The Christmas Tree,” my personal favorite in terms of naming), it’s not clear how Prandelli will line up his players. What is clear is that when Prandelli fills out the team sheet, he’ll have his pick of a midfield group that includes Daniele De Rossi, Riccardo Montolivo, Juventus duo Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio, PSG pairing Marci Verratti and Thiago Motta, jack of all trades Emanuele Giaccherini and close-to-mainstay-status Antonio Candreva. Gli Azzurri will likely be in good hands in the middle of the park.
The striker situation is a sharp contrast in terms of stability. Mario Balotelli is… Mario Balotelli. Playing for Prandelli seems to draw out the best in him on the pitch from a mental and physical standpoint, so he likely won’t be an issue. Still, his mercurial tendency remains. Ideally Giuseppe Rossi would line up next to him, but injuries have plagued the New Jersey native’s career. After Balotelli and Rossi, you have Pablo Osvaldo who is mercurial in his own right. Also in the strike force are Stephan El Shaarawy and Alberto Gilardino. Shaarawy is struggling through an injury and form issues, while the 31 year-old Gilardino could have potential issues in Brazil’s sweltering heat, where endurance and fitness will be key. Prandelli has even thrown around the idea of calling up Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero for the finals in Brazil.
If every mercurial and injury-prone striker can play issue free during the World Cup, Prandelli could be lifting a trophy. If not, Italy may not achieve all of its outstanding potential.
Italy’s Group D adversary, England, is currently playing out the twilight years of an era that has seen the midfield controlled by legends Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Joining them in the national team set-up are youngsters like Jack Wilshere, Andros Townsend, Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The latter group may not be on the level of the former duo yet, but they have potential. With England’s two elder statesmen, the youngsters and veterans such as Michael Carrick and Ashley Young, the Three Lions are in a comfortable place in midfield. They may not be the best or most dynamic bunch, but they work for England.